- Several states are being slammed for misreporting or misrepresenting the number of coronavirus cases and testing data.
- The most notable example is Georgia, where some have accused the health department of misrepresenting testing data to support Gov. Kemp’s broad reopening.
- The agency has shared a number of misleading and even inaccurate pieces of information on its website. Most recently, it posted a graph that showed a decline in cases, but only because the dates were out of order.
- Other states that have started reopening, like Texas and Virginia, included antibody tests in their reports, which experts say skewed the data.
Georgia’s Graph Gaff
Several states, including those with some of the broadest and most aggressive plans for reopening, are being criticized for misrepresenting and misreporting their coronavirus testing data.
Already, there are significant discrepancies between how data is reported state to state.
But the reporting of testing data is crucial for both politicians and the public to accurately understand how the pandemic is impacting their state. With that information, they can make informed choices about public health, like whether or not to reopen.
Now, experts are worried that skewed data from poor reporting could lead some states to ease restrictions too fast. Others believe that may be intentional.
Georgia is perhaps the most notable example of a state that has been widely condemned for its practice concerning data reporting. The state’s Department of Public Health (DPA) has had numerous mishaps in the area, and was most recently accused of sharing a misleading graph.
The graph in question, shared on the DPA’s website just over a week ago, displayed the number of confirmed cases in the five most heavily hit counties over a range of two weeks.
At first glance, the graph appeared to show the number of cases declining steadily. However, after looking to the bottom axis of the graph— the x-axis— it becomes apparent that the dates of each county’s recorded cases are not in order at all.
The graph starts by going from April 28 to April 27, then to April 29. At one point it even jumps from May 7 to April 26, then back to May 3.
What’s more, the colored bars—which represent different counties— were also arranged in different orders on different dates, further contributing to the appearance that the graph was showing declining cases.
However, according to an analysis of that data by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, there was not actually such a strong downward trend.
“The data is still preliminary, and cases have held steady or dropped slightly in the past two weeks,” the newspaper reported.
The DPA eventually updated the graph, and Gov. Brian Kemp’s office issued an apology.
“The x axis was set up that way to show descending values to more easily demonstrate peak values and counties on those dates,” a spokesperson wrote on Twitter. “Our mission failed. We apologize. It is fixed.”
The x axis was set up that way to show descending values to more easily demonstrate peak values and counties on those dates. Our mission failed. We apologize. It is fixed.— Candice Broce (@candicebroce) May 11, 2020
The DPA, however, had a different explanation. A spokesperson told the AJC that the issue was due to an error in how it sorted dates.
Other Errors in Georgia’s Reporting
This was not the first time that Georgia’s health department has made a significant reporting error.
According to the AJC, observers have noted “sloppiness in case counts, death counts and other measures that are fundamental to tracking a disease outbreak.”
The AJC also reported that in recent weeks, issues with the department’s data “caused confusion over whether novel coronavirus deaths had topped 1,000,” and that “The agency erroneously posted at least twice that children died.”
While it could be argued that some of those errors can be written up as a simple mistake during a chaotic and unprecedented time, many feel the graph crossed a line. Some are even skeptical that it was an accident.
“I have a hard time understanding how this happens without it being deliberate,” said State Rep. Jasmine Clark, who has a doctorate in microbiology and molecular genetics. “Literally nowhere ever in any type of statistics would that be acceptable.”
As a result, some people are worried that the data is “being portrayed in a way that favors Kemp’s early easing of restrictions,” according to the AJC.
Georgia was one of the first states to implement a sweeping reopening plan that massively scaled back restrictions. Even President Donald Trump, who has been a vocal supporter of reopening, slammed Kemp for the move.
The decision was controversial, and now, Georgia is being closely watched for what happens next. In other words, there’s a big incentive to make the numbers look good.
As the AJC points out, there are other instances where the DPA has portrayed and represented data in questionable manners— especially when it comes to graphics.
For example, they have a map of the state that colors counties in shades of blue or red based on rates of infection. Recently, the health department changed the metrics so that the infection rate in a given county needs to be higher than it was before to be colored red.
“Based on the (key) they were using a couple weeks ago, a good third to a half of our state would show up as red right now,” said Dr. Harry Heiman, a clinical associate professor at the Georgia State University School of Public Health. “Because they keep moving the goalposts, if you will, it doesn’t look that way.”
Broader Issues With Methodology
The AJC also reported that another graph on the agency’s website “has led readers to think that cases were dropping dramatically, even though lower case numbers were the result of a lag in data collection.”
The lag in data is especially relevant because it speaks to a broader issue with the very core of the methodology the agency uses reports its data.
At first, Georgia recorded and reported coronavirus cases based on the testing date. Then, in late April, right when Kemp began to reopen the state, the DPA started reporting based on when people had symptoms.
“But because it can take weeks for case information to come in, the new method always appears to show that cases are declining, even if they are not,” the AJC reported, adding that the data lags caused by how the state records cases “mean that counts for recent dates are often a fraction of what they turn out to be when the data is more complete.”
As a result, experts have said that these daily numbers are actually a representation of what the case count was about two weeks earlier, meaning that the state’s current numbers are likely a reflection of the success the lockdown measures had.
Looking to Georgia
These data issues are highly concerning and potentially very dangerous for both the people of Georgia and the rest of the U.S.
Georgians use that data to make key decisions, and lawmakers use it to make decisions that impact millions of people in the state, but it also goes beyond that.
“Wrong information about Georgia’s battle against COVID-19 is already shaping the way the public sees the state,” the AJC wrote.
Because of that information, many have been praising Kemp’s actions and using the state as an example and evidence for reopening.
For example, in a May 8 article, the Wall Street Journal dubbed Kemp’s plan the “Georgia Model,” and used it as evidence that lockdowns are unnecessarily harming the economy.
Other States With Data Problems
Georgia, however, is not the only state with data reporting problems.
Texas, which has arguably the broadest plan for reopening, has also shifted its testing metrics recently in a way that has problematized reporting.
“The Texas Department of State Health Service now includes antibody tests — which can detect whether a person previously recovered from COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus — in its daily testing totals,” the Texas Tribune reported last week.
But as the Tribune notes, that practice makes it impossible to tell how many tests show active infections versus previous infections. That is not the only problem with combining the data from antibody tests and traditional nasal-swab tests.
It also artificially inflates both the number of tests the state says it has done and falsely improves its positivity-rate, which compares the number of people who have tested positive to the total number of people tested.
Experts have said that merging these two very different data sets basically makes a positivity-rate data unusable.
That is quite significant because increased testing and decreasing positivity rates are two of the main factors that states have used as evidence to justify reopening. Like Virginia, which until last week used both traditional and antibody tests in its case count, but stopped after receiving backlash.
The misrepresentation of data also goes beyond testing. According to reports, when it first began easing restrictions, Florida tried to suppress county coroners from releasing coronavirus death counts.
See what others are saying: (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution) (Business Insider) (Vox)
After Uvalde, Politicians, Public Figures, Gun Violence Survivors, and More Call For Change
“When are we going to do something?” Golden State Warriors Coach Steve Kerr asked during an emotional plea at a press conference.
Uvalde Shooting Kills 21 People
Democratic politicians, activists, and many others are calling for gun reform in the United States after 19 children and two teachers were killed in a Tuesday shooting at Robb Hill Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.
The 18-year-old suspected gunman was reportedly killed by officers. The massacre marks the 27th school shooting of 2022, according to Education Week.
It also comes just a week and a half after 10 people were killed in a shooting in Buffalo, New York, and another shooting in a Southern California church left one person dead and several others injured.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Ct.) spoke fervently on the Senate floor Tuesday, slamming his colleagues for refusing to pass gun control legislation that could prevent future shootings.
“What are we doing?” he asked of his fellow lawmakers. “Why do you spend all this time running for the United States Senate? Why do you through all the hassle of getting this job, of putting yourself in a position of authority, if your answer is, as the slaughter increases, as kids run for their lives, we do nothing? What are we doing?
“Why are you here if not to solve a problem as existential as this?” he continued. “This isn’t inevitable. These kids weren’t unlucky. This only happens in this country.”
“And it is a choice. It is our choice.”
President Joe Biden likewise urged action by supporting the now-expired assault weapons ban.
“We can do more. We must do more,” he added.
Public Figures And Shooting Survivors Speak Out
The demands for change spread far past political figures. Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr took time out of a pre-game press conference to passionately plead for common-sense gun control. He specifically called on Senators to vote on H.R. 8, a background check bill previously passed in the House.
“When are we going to do something?” Kerr asked while slamming his hands on the table.
“I ask you, Mitch McConnell, I ask all of you senators who refuse to do anything about the violence and school shootings and supermarket shootings. I ask you: Are you going to put your own desire for power ahead of the lives of our children and our elderly and our churchgoers?” Kerr continued. “Because that’s what it looks like.”
He went on to say that Americans, who largely support background checks, are “being held hostage by 50 Senators who refuse to even put it to a vote.”
Grammy Award-winning musician Taylor Swift shared his message, adding that she is filled with “rage and grief” not just from the shootings, but by “the ways in which we, as a nation, have become conditioned to unfathomable and unbearable heartbreak.”
“It doesn’t have to be this way,” tweeted David Hogg, an activist and survivor of the 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Florida. “The way we will make this time different is by Americans on both sides of the aisle collaborating on what we can agree on to get something done even if small. Kids are dying we have to do something.”
Manuel Oliver, the father of one of the children lost in the Parkland shooting, slammed the inaction of politicians in an interview on CBS News.
“The families don’t need your freaking hearts,” Oliver said. “They need their kids, and the kids are not there anymore. So I feel very angry and offended and I just don’t understand how come a whole society doesn’t wake up.”
People impacted by the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting also spoke out, including Mary Ann Jacob, who worked as a librarian at the school during the shooting.
“I’m so sorry those deaths did not change our world,” Jacob wrote.
Texas-based figures felt especially compelled to stand up as the tragedy hit so close to home. Academy Award-winning actor Matthew McConaughey, whose hometown is Uvalde, wrote a message on social media asking Americans to “take a longer and deeper look in the mirror and ask ourselves, ‘What is it that we truly value?’”
“We have tragically proven that we are failing to be responsible for the rights our freedoms grant us,” McConaughey wrote.
“Action must be taken so that no parent has to experience what the parents in Uvalde and the others before them have endured.”
Fellow Texas native Selena Gomez also took to social media to argue for action.
“If children aren’t safe at school where are they safe? It’s so frustrating and I’m not sure what to say anymore,” the “Only Murders in the Building” star wrote on her Instagram story. “Those in power need to stop giving lip service and actually change the laws to prevent these shootings in the future.”
We make it a point to not include the names and pictures of those who may have been seeking attention or infamy and will not link out to websites that might contain such information.
Lawmakers Call For Action as Oil Companies Post Record Profits Amid Rising Gas Prices
A recent analysis from the Center for American Progress found that the top five oil companies earned over 300% more in profits during the first quarter of 2022 than the same period last year.
As Consumer Prices Climb, Big Oil Profits
American oil companies are facing increased scrutiny over profiteering practices as gas prices continue to surpass record highs driven by Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine.
Last week, costs surged to above $4 per gallon in all 50 states for the first time ever, according to the auto club AAA. Prices are currently averaging over $4.59 per gallon nationwide, which is 50% higher than they were this time last year.
In addition to consumers hurting at the pump, there are also rising concerns for industries that rely on fuel and oil like trucking, freight, airlines, and plastic manufacturers.
To account for high prices, some in sectors have responded by ramping up prices further down the supply chain to account for costs, putting even more of a burden on consumers to pay for everyday items.
But as Americans struggle with sky-high gas prices at a time of record inflation, recently released earnings reports show that many of the world’s largest oil companies thrived in the first quarter of 2022.
ExxonMobil more than doubled its earnings from the same period last year, reporting a net profit of $5.5 billion. Meanwhile, Chevron logged its best quarterly earnings in almost a decade, and Shell had its highest earnings ever.
According to a new analysis conducted by the Center for American Progress, the top five oil companies — including the three mentioned above — earned over 300% more in profits this quarter than during the same time last year.
“In fact, these five companies’ first-quarter profits alone are equivalent to almost 28 percent of what Americans spent to fill up their gas tanks in the same time period,” the report noted.
Per Insider, for at least four of those companies, that growth marks a tremendous increase in profits from even before the pandemic.
Lawmakers Ramp-Up Efforts to Reduce Prices
To address these startling disparities, federal lawmakers have moved in recent weeks to increase pressure on oil companies and take steps to lower prices.
On Thursday, the House of Representatives passed a bill proposed by Rep. Katie Porter (D-Ca.) that aims to reduce gas prices. The legislation, called The Consumer Fuel Price Gouging Prevention Act, would give the president the authority to issue an Energy Emergency Declaration that would be effective for up to 30 days with the possibility of being renewed.
In that emergency period, it would be illegal for anyone to increase gas or home energy fuel prices to a level that is exploitative or “unconscionably excessive.”
The proposal would also give the Federal Trade Commission the power to investigate and manage instances of price gouging from larger companies and give state authorities the ability to enforce price-gouging violations in civil courts.
The bill, which has already seen widespread opposition from Republicans and extensive lobbying from pro-oil interest groups, faces an uphill battle in the 50-50 split Senate.
During debate on the act Thursday, Rep. Porter delivered an impassioned speech accusing oil companies of driving their record profits by using their market power to unfairly increase prices.
“The oil and gas industry currently has more than 9,000 permits to drill for oil on federal land, but they are deliberately keeping production low to please their investors and increase their short-term profits,” she said. “Even when the price of crude oil falls, oil and gas companies have refused to pass those savings on to consumers.”
“Let me be clear: price gouging is anti-capitalist,” Porter continued. “It exploits a lack of competition, which is a hallmark of capitalism. It is an effort to juice corporate profits at the expense of customers. Energy markets are reeling because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Big oil companies, however, are using this temporary chaos to cover up their abuse.”
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Vox) (NPR)
Lincoln College to Close for Good After COVID and Ransomware Attack Ruin Finances
Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.
One of the Only Historically Black Colleges in the Midwest Goes Down
After 157 years of educating mostly Black students in Illinois, Lincoln College will close its doors for good on Friday.
The college made the announcement last month, citing financial troubles caused by the coronavirus pandemic and a ransomware attack in December.
Enrollment dropped during the pandemic and the administration had to make costly investments in technology and campus safety measures, according to a statement from the school.
A shrinking endowment put additional pressure on the college’s budget.
The ransomware attack, which the college has said originated from Iran, thwarted admissions activities and hindered access to all institutional data. Systems for recruitment, retention, and fundraising were completely inoperable at a time when the administration needed them most.
In March, the college paid the ransom, which it has said amounted to less than $100,000. But according to Lincoln’s statement, subsequent projections showed enrollment shortfalls so significant the college would need a transformational donation or partnership to make it beyond the present semester.
The college put out a request for $50 million in a last-ditch effort to save itself, but no one came forward to provide it.
A GoFundMe aiming to raise $20 million for the college only collected $2,452 as of Tuesday.
Students and Employees Give a Bittersweet Goodbye
“The loss of history, careers, and a community of students and alumni is immense,” David Gerlach, the college’s president, said in a statement.
Lincoln counts nearly 1,000 enrolled students, and those who did not graduate this spring will leave the institution without degrees.
Gerlach has said that 22 colleges have worked with Lincoln to accept the remaining students, including their credits, tuition prices, and residency requirements.
“I was shocked and saddened by that news because of me being a freshman, so now I have to find someplace for me to go,” one student told WMBD News after the closure was announced.
When a group of students confronted Gerlach at his office about the closure, he responded with an emotional speech.
“I have been fighting hard to save this place,” he said. “But resources are resources. We’ve done everything we possibly could.”
On April 30, alumni were invited back to the campus to revisit the highlights of their college years before the institution closed.
On Saturday, the college held its final graduation ceremony, where over 200 students accepted their diplomas and Quentin Brackenridge performed the Lincoln Alma Mater.
Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.